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Bond yields are ignoring the good economic news

The Bond Vigilantes blog caught my eye this morning, with an excellent post and chart which inspired this version above. What this chart shows is that (up until last summer, that is) bond yields have been strongly influenced by the market's understanding of how weak or strong the economy. The white line is the Citi Economic Surprise Index, which tracks how actual economic news releases compare to expectations. The index has moved up strongly since last summer, as almost every economic indicator has come in stronger than expected (with the weekly claims report this morning the latest example). In the past, a stronger-than-expected economy such as we've seen in recent months would have led to a substantial rise in Treasury yields (10-yr yields are shown in orange). But not now, most likely because (and here I agree with the Bond Vigilantes) the market is terrified of PIIGS defaults. The news in the U.S. has clearly gotten better, but the news coming out of the Eurozone has been pretty awful, and Treasuries end up being the beneficiary of the world's intense demand for safe-haven assets.

The Fed and others might argue that Operation Twist (the Fed's current program of selling short maturity bonds and buying longer maturity bonds) is responsible for holding down 10-yr yields, but I don't buy that. The Fed can control the level of short- and intermediate-term yields, but not long-term yields. Thought experiment: if the news in Europe suddenly took a turn for the better (e.g., PIIGS governments took genuine steps to curtail spending), wouldn't you expect 10-yr yields to rocket higher?

The bond market is likely a tightly coiled spring, with yields compressed by fears of Eurozone defaults and a possible collapse of the Eurozone financial system. 2-yr Eurozone swap spreads confirm this, as they are still trading at nosebleed levels of 115 bps. To push yields down further would require these fears to be realized by a succession of truly awful events (and that's where I disagree with the Bond Vigilantes).

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